Thursday, July 2, 2009

Obama and Israel

Dershowitz is one of the sharpest and clearest commentators around today.

Are fears of Obama "turning" on Israel justified?

Rhetorically, the Obama team has definitely taken a harsher approach toward Israel compared to its tone during the campaign. But has there been a change in substance about Israel's security? In answering this question, it is essential to distinguish between several aspects of American policy.

An important distinction between rhetoric and substance, one too often ignored by pundits, blowhards and demagogues in politics and the media.

First there are the settlements.

A contentious point, laden with emotion, a perfect point of cleavage between opponents, easily placing a wedge and making compromise difficult.

I believe there is a logical compromise on settlement growth that has been proposed by Yousef Munayyer, a leader of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League. "Obama should make it clear to the Israelis that settlers should feel free to grow their families as long as their settlements grow vertically, and not horizontally," he wrote last month in the Boston Globe. In other words, build "up" rather than "out." This seems fair to both sides, since it would preserve the status quo for future negotiations that could lead to a demilitarized Palestinian state and Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish one – results sought by both the Obama administration and Israel.

The "other side" might have a good idea; what a novel, refreshing concept.

the Obama position on settlement expansion, whether one agrees with it or not, is not at all inconsistent with support for Israel. It may be a different position from that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it is not a difference that should matter to most Jewish voters who support both Mr. Obama and Israel.

Exactly: Bibi is not Israel, but its current PM.

The differences that would matter are those – if they exist – that directly impact Israel's security. And in terms of Israel's security, nothing presents a greater threat than Iran.

The Obama administration consistently says that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. But prior to the current unrest in the Islamic Republic, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel frightened many supporters of Israel in May by appearing to link American efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons to Israeli actions with regard to the settlements.

This is a disturbing linkage that should be disavowed by the Obama administration. Opposition to a nuclear Iran – which would endanger the entire world – should not be dependent in any way on the issue of settlement expansion.

However: Thankfully, the Obama administration's point man on this issue, Dennis Ross, shows no signs of weakening American opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran.

There may be coming changes in the Obama administration's policies that do weaken the security of the Jewish state. Successful presidential candidates often soften their support for Israel once they are elected. So with Iran's burgeoning nuclear threat, it's important to be vigilant for any signs of weakening support for Israel's security – and to criticize forcefully any such change. But getting tough on settlement expansion should not be confused with undercutting Israel's security.

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